LG’s Latest Dolby Atmos Earbuds Are a Great Idea, but They Hurt My Ears

LG’s Latest Dolby Atmos Earbuds Are a Great Idea, but They Hurt My Ears

I liked the LG TONE Free FP9 earbuds quite a lot, so much so that my April 2022 review was quite boring, giving the buds praise in almost every way. Unfortunately, I’m singing a different tune this year with the LG TONE Free T90 Dolby Atmos Wireless Earbuds – they just hurt my ears way too much.

Interestingly, the T90 buds look and feel a lot like the FP9 buds. The sound quality is boosted on the new pair, with Dolby Atmos a gorgeous addition (more on that in a sec), but it’s the first time since using the Amazon Echo Buds that I’ve been given the ick by a pair of earbuds. The ick with the Amazon pair was they were just huge, lumping all the tech into a super large blob circle thing – but the issue with the LG TONE Free T90 Dolby Atmos earbuds is that inside my ear, it adds too much pressure, exemplified when there’s music being pumped through that boasts any sort of bass.

LG TONE Free T90 Dolby Atmos earbuds

The LG TONE Free T90 Dolby Atmos earbuds were released earlier this year.

LG TONE Free T90 Dolby Atmos earbuds
Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

Dolby head-tracking

The biggest takeaway with the LG T90 buds is that they’re the first (LG says) Dolby Atmos Earbuds with Dolby Head Tracking. If you enable Dolby Head Tracking, a sensor that tracks the direction of your head is turned on. The earbuds then adjust the direction of the sound as your head moves. This is an experience that can’t be understated.

Dolby Atmos is enabled on Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV+, and Vudu. But not everything on those respective platforms is. Thankfully, one show I thoroughly enjoy, You, is, so I immersed myself back into the world of Joe Goldberg and moved around the room, catching the rustling of the page in my left ear and a car whizzing past on my right. The sound was crystal clear, without a bass bleed, and truly encapsulating. It was most similar to the experience I got with the Apple HomePods, but there was no outside noise as the buds were inserted into my ears. The sensation was definitely captivating, making me double-check if the buds were actually the things delivering the sound. There was height from the sound in many scenes, but a lot of subtle instances throughout each episode, like a clink of a chain or the lighting of a fire that I felt captivated me more than it otherwise would.

Dolby Atmos is beautiful, but it’s the way its used that is the most impressive. The T90 earbuds just deliver that to you.

Listening to the Dolby Atmos demo was also gorgeous. With a movie or TV show, it’s hard to really isolate a good scene that displays the beauty of Dolby Atmos, but using the LG TONE Free T90 earbuds to listen to music was how you can tell these things are onto something.

Across a handful of genres, via Apple Music, it felt like I was placed in the middle of the stage (although if I was in real life, the sound would be horrendous), but I didn’t feel the height I did with TV shows or a movie.

This is all wonderful, but I just couldn’t keep using them.

They feel like a cork blasting pure sound into my brain

It may be the fact that since September I’ve been using the Apple AirPods Pro 2 daily. They’re mostly the same size as the LG TONE Free T90 earbuds, in fact, their stem is longer. The earbud itself is the same size (the box comes with a few size options, I’m using the smallest set), and the buds are barely any different in weight. But somehow, the LG pair hurt and the AirPods do not.

LG TONE Free T90 Dolby Atmos earbuds
Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

Sorry if you have megalophobia.

While the sound was gorgeous, when listening to anything I personally enjoy – heavy guitar, fast drums, screams as vocals – I felt uncomfortable. It’s like it had activated an ear infection and any slight bass-heavy beat was throbbing through my ear. I listened to the same song on the AirPods Pro 2, no issue, similarly, I listened to a lighter, more poppy song on the T90 and the buds were still uncomfortable, just not as aggressive with the pain jolts. Yes, I fiddled with the settings. They’re just not made for my ears.

While the active noise-cancellation is good, using the LG TONE Free T90 earbuds as a concert-blocking device like I have with the AirPods Pro 2 leaked bass through. Probably because they need to be corked into my ear more than the AirPods. I don’t know, but I can’t keep listening as the pain gets too intolerable.

Anything else?

Set up is a sinch, the app is user-friendly, and charge time/battery life is impressive. I’ve only charged them once since I started using them, mostly because I couldn’t use them for long stints due to all of the above. On a positive note, though, the LG TONE Free T90 earbuds connected seamlessly to both of my phones, as well as my laptop.

The LG TONE Free T90 earbuds boast UV Nano Self Cleaning technology. LG says this kills 99.9 per cent of bacteria (Escherichia coli & Staphylococcus aureus) after five minutes. It’s worth noting the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency have released statements about their concerns with using UV to kill germs in a home setting, particularly when related to COVID.

“Concerns include the variability of effectiveness of lamps and the potential to provide a false impression of safety if the intensity or duration of exposure is not sufficient to kill the virus. In addition to varying reliability, there are also serious health risks if skin or eyes are exposed to UVC light.”

That said, LG has made this product so that the UV light supposedly only does its thing when the headphones are charging in their case and the lid is closed. As I said when reviewing the FP9 earbuds, I have no scientific proof that this light is actually doing anything to the headphones, but one person’s false sense of security is another person’s anxieties over germs lightly soothed.

A rock and a hard place

I love LG as a company – but the buds miss the mark for me. These last few weeks have highlighted just how different the earbuds experience is for different people.

Overall, the LG TONE Free T90 earbuds project gorgeous Dolby Atmos sound, movies have never sounded better through earbuds – but the only place I watch movies in is the cinema, sometimes in my loungeroom with a soundbar/sub/surround speaker system, not earbuds, so this isn’t winning me over. Music also sounds fantastic through the buds – music mixed in Dolby Atmos is like falling into the track like a cloud is carrying you across the sky – but there’s currently only a bunch of tracks on Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Tidal. Not Spotify or YouTube.

And, without the buds being attached to a phone operating system like the Apple AirPods Pro 2, the Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro, and the Google Pixel Buds Pro, I just can’t say they work for me. But they might for you.

Where to buy the LG TONE Free T90 Dolby Atmos Wireless Earbuds?

LG Australia $319 & JB Hi-Fi $319

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